Shelter(ed) Day 9 – Back to Havana

Shelter(ed) Day 9 – Back to Havana

Chapter 9 – For whom the Bell Tolls

Papa rocks the Floridita. Illustration by Ermitas Blanco. Havana.

When the Bacardi tour was over, Pablo sensed Nina had had enough culture and suggested they hit cocktail hour at a little bar down the street: the Floridita

“Hell, yes — liquor me up in the late afternoon, please,”  Nina thought to herself. “Then do with me what you will. If I’m going to travel 60 years in a day, I sure as hell want my money’s worth.”

Pablo wasn’t used to such fast women — in any era. But he was adjusting quickly.

They walked the two blocks to the Floridita hand in hand, enjoying the long shadows across the Capitolo and the Opera House before ducking into the noisy bar. Two seats at the bar opened up as they entered.  Almost all the way in the corner, one barrel-chested, grey-bearded man sat alone on the last stool. He motioned for them to sit: in fact he welcomed their company.

“The other couple were such a bore, I’m glad they left,” said the bearded one.

“Every man should have a good story to tell, when he sits at a bar,” he began. “Even if just to entertain his lady while the drinks are made. I’m often that man. But I love the way Constantino makes daiquiris. And so I sit here, often with strangers, sometimes alone. But never without a story. Two drinks for my friends please, Constantino!”

He continued. “And so I think of things to talk about, while he toils on our refreshment. And I try them out here, on the bartenders, or the staff, or on their customers. I write the best ones down while I fish on my boat, Pilar. I hate most of them, but it pays some bills.”

“Two daiquiris for your friends, and one for the Nobel Prize winner. Here’s to you, Papa,” said Constantino. 

Nina impulsively did what any self respecting party girl from the 21st century would do when the world’s greatest writer buys you a drink: she batted her eyes, and raised a glass — then took a selfie with them. And for the first time in 48 hours, she had a slight pang for the future. She realized she could not share her 1957-era Hemingway selfie on Instagram. She couldn’t make phone calls, send texts, Facetime, check social media, or shop. All that the phone was good for were pictures, her downloaded music, and the flashlight. She probably held more computing power in her hand than existed on the entire planet in 1957. Hell, she certainly did. But it was basically a Palm Pilot with a camera at this point.

Papa spooled out his stories, stretching them further and further into the Cuban blue like a fishing line. Nina and Pablo let it run for three more daiquiris; then, abruptly, Papa declared it over. He invited them fishing one day, surrendered his corner stool to no one, and kissed the cabaret singer by the door before heading back through Old Havana to the docks.

“Pablo,” said Nina, “I spent my whole career trying to get shots of celebs for Page Six, just to put food on the table. And by ‘food,’ I mean the young hottie diet: coffee for breakfast, a cucumber for lunch and some dude buys dinner. And I would never have gotten the shots I have in the last 48 hours in Havana. But what can I do with them? Sure, a few shots of Sinatra are worth $500 in 1957. But in 2017 I’d have 25k followers by now.” I can make a living here, but I’d have to do it without thousands of ‘likes’ and followers fawning over me. I just don’t know how I could do it. I mean, the camera is still great on my iPhone, and my little printer in my purse is worth gold here.

But honestly, I haven’t seen a notification from Instagram, a ‘like’ from Facebook, and the Ghost from SnapChat for 48 hours and it’s driving me crazy.” (She thought better of mentioning the “inbounds” on Bumble and Tinder that were probably waiting for her as well).

“Maybe that’s the problem, Nina. Your addiction is digital.” 

“Your last ten years have been a blur… 24/7 WiFi, constantly curating your ‘best self’ on social media, and checking in every time there’s a notification.”

“Yeah, maybe. But it makes me feel good.”

“Exactly, you need your ‘fix.’ But what about real life? When have you ever felt more alive than in the past 24 hours in Havana. Our Wifi in 2017 is strangely similar to that of 1957… barely existent. 

Yet we survive. We have better relationships with each other. We have lower expectations. And what we get, we savor. 

He was right, but she was beginning not to care.

The party girl from New York had come to the Ultimate Party Town, and landed in the Ultimate Party Decade. She had photos of Ol’ Blue Eyes, William Holden playing cards, Nat King Cole singing to Bogart and Bacall — and now a selfie with Papa. But without InstaGram, did she care? 

Not that she could do anything about it.

The hours passed, the moon came up, the daiquiris flowed and Pablo just kept getting sexier and sexier. As the two walked back to the car along Avenida Belgica, she paused in a dark little alcove next to a Ferrari Garage and planted a wet kiss all over Pablo’s face while pressing him against a small waiting bench. The mechanics inside were working late, and gave the couple a hearty (but slightly) lewd salute. 

Energized by their taunts, she squatted to the level of Pablo’s pleated trousers and slowly unfurled the oversize Cohiba that was always ready in his pocket. This was one thing IRL- In Real Life- that she certainly did savor.

From her vantage point, she missed the ‘57 Chevy pulling into the garage, Ralph and Jorge in the back seat.


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I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.